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Memory Fitness
How to Get It, How to Keep It

by Cynthia R. Green, PhD

It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well.
—René Descartes

Are you frustrated by forgetfulness? If so, you are not alone. People of all ages complain about the memory lapses that get in their way, such as forgetting their keys, scheduling two appointments for the same time, losing a train of thought, not recalling what they wanted to get from the kitchen, and — worst of all! — forgetting names. As people grow older, these slips seem to become more frequent and can even be frightening. It’s all too easy to worry that each little memory lapse is actually the early sign of a slow decline to dementia.

Although diabetes seems to increase a person’s risk for developing dementia, dementia is still relatively uncommon in people with diabetes. And while there is thought to be some decline in a person’s ability to learn new things with increasing age, a lot of forgetfulness is often just caused by poor memory health.

Can people improve their memories? Absolutely. Almost everyone can improve their daily memory performance, no matter what their age, medical history, or background. Healthy adults who do not have a memory disorder such as dementia can boost their memory power simply by practicing better memory health habits. Just as exercise can improve physical health, so too can certain techniques and lifestyle changes enhance memory fitness. All it takes is an awareness of what good memory health habits are and a commitment to making them part of your daily routine. This article describes some strategies you can put in place today that could really rev up your recall.

Paying attention
One of the main reasons people forget something is that they weren’t paying attention to the information in the first place. You may notice that you’re more likely to forget names when you are preoccupied with work or haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep. Or that you “space out” in conversations more when a family dilemma weighs heavily on your mind. Attention is one of the most sensitive aspects of intellectual functioning, and it’s hard to pay attention to one thing if you are distracted by other things around you, thinking about something else, or have something going on in your life that is making it hard for you to remain focused. Attention is essential to memory, and if it is lacking, the problem is not really forgetting, but rather that the information wasn’t stored properly in the first place. The great news is that there are many strategies to help improve attention.

Learn to focus. While no one is 100% in focus all the time, you can help yourself by ratcheting up your focus during times you really need to be paying attention. When you are introduced to someone whose name you must remember, concentrate your awareness on that name. Make an effort to keep your focus in meetings where you need to ignore distractions and keep track of what is being said.

Practice exercises that build your attention control. Some of the best attention control exercises come from the field of stress management. For example, spend a few minutes every day focusing only on your breathing, shutting out everything else. Or concentrate on each of your senses, one at a time, as you eat your first bite of a food at each meal.

Build your attention span. Keeping focused on one thing for a long time can be challenging for some, but you can build your attention span with enjoyable activities. For example, many games can help you learn to keep focused, think quickly, and shift strategies to win. Figure out how to play the games on your cell phone, buy electronic handheld games (there are various versions of old favorites, such as Boggle and Simon), borrow the Nintendo 3DS or PlayStation Portable from your favorite teen, or search online for some engaging puzzles (a favorite is Set, which you can find at www.setgame.com).

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Name Game



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